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Good new site on reflective writing
In case anyone might be interested, here is a new site called “How to Start & Keep a Mental Health Journal” that you might find useful.
FEBRUARY 2023 CHANGES IN PERSPECTIVE AFTER DIFFICULT TIMES
It would be difficult to find someone who has not been through hard times of one kind or another. If we’re lucky, we can become living illustrations of the saying, “Whatever doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.” Those difficult times can also change our perceptions of what matters. A day that we might have taken for granted earlier may seem like the best thing that could happen.
Here is a poem, “A Good Day,” that explores how it feels to emerge from a difficult time. It’s read by the author, Kait Rokowsky.
Writing (10 minutes): Taking that poem as a starting point, you might want to write whatever comes to mind about emerging from a difficult period in your life.
You might also want to use one or more of these quotations as a starting point for writing.
“Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.” – Oprah Winfrey
“You are today where your thoughts have brought you; you will be tomorrow where your thoughts take you.” – James Allen
“There is something you must always remember. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” – A.A. Milne
“Inside of a ring or out, ain’t nothing wrong with going down. It’s staying down that’s wrong.” – Muhammad Ali
“Going through challenging things can teach you a lot, and they also make you appreciate the times that aren’t so challenging.” – Carrie Fisher
“In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life. It goes on.” – Robert Frost
JANUARY 2023, BEGINNER’S MIND
On a hot day last summer, the little boy next door came over to bring me a letter that had been delivered to their house by mistake. I saw him at the screen door, staring fixedly at something. When I came closer, I saw that what he was staring at was a bright green bug slowly climbing the screen. What kind of bug was it? he asked eagerly. Where did it live? What did it eat? I had no idea, because I hadn’t even noticed the bug, and probably wouldn’t have if he hadn’t drawn my attention to it. You may have had similar experiences when out with a child, to whom the world is new, and small things can be very interesting.
As we carry the responsibilities of our adult lives, with a great deal occupying our minds, it seems fitting to take a little while to think about seeing life with interest and curiosity, putting aside what we thought we already knew.
This short video by Conor Neill introduces the practice of Shoshin, or beginner’s mind: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6pgU4acU5_I
Writing exercise: Although Neill speaks of business opportunities, it might be worth considering what other kinds of opportunities could be fostered by a beginner’s mind.
One or more of these quotations might also serve as prompts for writing.
“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.” ― Shunryu Suzuki
“When was the last time you saw something for the first time?” — Anonymous
“Every day is a fresh beginning. Every morn, the world is made anew.” Sarah Chauncey Wooley
“There are some people who see a great deal and some who see very little in the same things.”
― Thomas Henry Huxley
“Destinations are end points. Journeys are learnings, paths of possibilities, blossoming… fresh beginnings.” ― Rasheed Ogunlaru
“Have you ever seen the dawn? Not a dawn groggy with lack of sleep or hectic with mindless obligations and you about to rush off on an early adventure or business, but full of deep silence and absolute clarity of perception? A dawning which you truly observe, degree by degree. It is the most amazing moment of birth.” — Vera Nazarian
“Every day we can learn something new.” ― Lailah Gifty Akita
DECEMBER 2022, DEALING WITH HOLIDAYS
Although not everyone celebrates Christmas, this seems like a good time of year to reflect on how we experience holidays, regardless of what holidays we observe.
Holidays are meant to be enjoyable, but to enhance that enjoyment, it might help to reflect on how to handle the less pleasant aspects of holiday times. First, we may feel pressured to get a great deal done: cooking, baking, cleaning, buying and wrapping gifts, etc. We may also feel pressured emotionally, either by regrets or losses that feel sharper at holiday times, or by the sense that we should feel guilty if we’re not experiencing the emotions that traditionally go along with that holiday.
Writing Exercise: Think of a holiday that’s especially meaningful for you and picture that holiday approaching. How do feel? What thoughts come into your mind as you contemplate that holiday? How might you feel more at peace with it?
You might also like to use one or more of these quotations as a prompt for writing.
“I think happiness really happens when you least expect it: it’s when you’re not really thinking about it, when you’re not trying to achieve it, when you’re not trying to get the perfect holiday, the perfect life, the perfect body, the perfect existence.” — Bill Bailey
“The holiest of holidays are those kept by ourselves in silence and apart; the secret anniversaries of the heart.” — Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
“The joy of brightening other lives, bearing each others’ burdens, easing each other’s loads and supplanting empty hearts and lives with generous gifts becomes for us the magic of the holidays.” — W.C. Jones
“During the holidays, your pain may be closer to the surface. The ritual and intimacy of the holidays may make you more emotional. Remember that your emotions are normal and natural, and when you feel them it means it’s time for you to feel them.” – Alan D. Wolfelt
“It makes one’s mouth hurt to speak with such forced merriment.” ― David Sedaris
NOVEMBER 2022, SELF-ACCEPTANCE
NOVEMBER 2022 SELF-ACCEPTANCE
Throughout our lives, we may experience social pressure to see ourselves as somehow incomplete or unworthy. We’re not thin enough, or not young enough. We don’t exercise enough, or contribute to the right causes, or make the right social moves. Accepting who we are and what we have may be seen not as a virtue, but as a character flaw.
Of course, sometimes it makes sense to pursue improvement; while at other times, we’d live happier and more productive lives if we accepted who and what we are. Whether we live in happiness or regret depends to a large extent on what we tell ourselves about our circumstances — the narrative we run in our heads.
In today’s workshop, we watched a TEDx talk, “How the Story Transforms the Teller,” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wgeh4xhSA2Q in which storyteller Don Davis shows how changing the narrative in our own minds can change our experience of life.
Writing exercise: Using the video as a starting point, consider aspects of your own life that might seem to be limitations. On reflection, is this something that you should continue to struggle against? Or would it be better to think about shaping the narrative in order to live with it in peace?
Here are a few quotations that can also be used as writing prompts:
“The worst loneliness is to not be comfortable with yourself.” — Mark Twain
“You have peace,” the old woman said, “when you make it with yourself.” — Mitch Albom
“Friendship with oneself is all important, because without it one cannot be friends with anyone else in the world.” — Eleanor Roosevelt
“The hardest challenge is to be yourself in a world where everyone is trying to make you be somebody else.” e. e. cummings
“She lacks confidence, she craves admiration insatiably. She lives on the reflections of herself in the eyes of others. She does not dare to be herself.” — Anais Nin
“Too many people overvalue what they are not and undervalue what they are.” — Malcolm S. Forbes
OCTOBER 2022, TRUST
We hear a great deal about the need to trust, the danger of trusting, whether people can be trusted, and what happens when we’re betrayed.
10 minute writing: What does trust mean to you? If you say that you trust someone, what do you mean? Does it depend on who you’re trusting, and about what?
Here are a few other issues to consider, either in reflection or in writing.
Sometimes someone means well but just can’t cope.
What is the difference between trusting someone and placing expectations on them that might be unwelcome? To what extent, and how, does the other person signal a willingness to meet those expectations?
What are some of the different ways in which we trust people — e.g., to be monogamous, to keep secrets, not to do something that would harm us, to be competent at their job, to know what’s best for us? What about trusting institutions, such as a church, bank, insurance company, medical practice?
10 minute writing: What does trust mean when you’re the one being trusted? In what ways are you trusted by others, what does that mean that you have to do, how do you feel about it?
Here are some quotations that might serve as prompts for further writing:
The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them. — Ernest Hemingway
Trust no friend without faults, and love a woman, but no angel. — Doris Lessing
“I don’t trust people who don’t love themselves and tell me, ‘I love you.’ … There is an African saying which is: Be careful when a naked person offers you a shirt.” — Maya Angelou
Trust is like a vase, once it’s broken, though you can fix it, the vase will never be same again. — Walter Anderson
Because you believed I was capable of behaving decently, I did. — Paolo Coelho
Few things help an individual more than to place responsibility upon him, and to let him know that you trust him. — Booker T. Washington
SEPTEMBER 2022, THE ROAD NOT TAKEN
SEPTEMBER 2022 THE ROAD NOT TAKEN
Since we each live only one life, we have to make choices: we do one thing, and therefore don’t do another. So as we get older, a natural part of life is to come to terms with the reality that of the multiple lives we might have lived, this is the one we are living. We may be tempted to go back and second guess ourselves, thus stoking regrets that are now pointless. A more productive approach might be to come to terms with who we are now, recognizing that the life we’re living IS our life and not someone else’s, even if it isn’t what we planned.
One of the best known expressions of this reality in literature is Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken.” Here’s a version of it read by Frost https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gRdYv7g0r0A and the text appears below.
The Road Not Taken
by Robert Frost
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Writing exercise: When addressing this topic, people often think about what might have been, and whether their life would have been better or worse if they had made different decisions. That’s a natural thing to do, but it doesn’t go anywhere because who knows? Maybe if you had been in one place rather than in another, you would have had some completely unexpected experience that you can’t possibly know about now. So for this writing, focus on the road you did take, the choices you did make. What was a major decision point, or more than one? What is in your life now because of it? Importantly, just take a moment to look at where you are now and to recognize that this IS your life, not someone else’s. You’re not an imposter. This IS you.
You might also like to use one or more of these quotations as a prompt for writing:
“I don’t know if I continue, even today, always liking myself. But what I learned to do many years ago was to forgive myself. It is very important for every human being to forgive herself or himself because if you live, you will make mistakes- it is inevitable. But once you do and you see the mistake, then you forgive yourself and say, ‘Well, if I’d known better I’d have done better,’ that’s all. So you say to people who you think you may have injured, ‘I’m sorry,’ and then you say to yourself, ‘I’m sorry.’ If we all hold on to the mistake, we can’t see our own glory in the mirror because we have the mistake between our faces and the mirror; we can’t see what we’re capable of being. You can ask forgiveness of others, but in the end the real forgiveness is in one’s own self.” – Maya Angelou
“Just because it didn’t work doesn’t mean it was the wrong choice. The world is full of probabilities, not certainties.” ― James Clear
“Is life a game of yes or no? I wonder about the absolutes that we try to create for ourselves, our relationship, our life choices. We try to make things black and white when sometimes it is much more grey.” ― Savi Sharma
I think that somehow, we learn who we really are and then live with that decision. — Eleanor Roosevelt
AUGUST 2022, THE POWER OF “WHAT WILL PEOPLE THINK?”
This month, we considered how worrying about What will people think? limits our options, and how it differs from legitimate concern about meeting the needs of others. As always, the intent isn’t to arrive at a single right answer about how we should think or behave. It’s about opening up the conversation, challenging habits of thought, raising questions we don’t ordinarily stop to think about, and deciding as individuals whether what we’ve been doing is what we want to keep doing.
Writing exercise 10 minutes: Is there anything in your life that you’d do differently if you weren’t worried about what people would think? This isn’t about meeting others’ needs, such as working shorter hours in order to have time with your kids. It’s about making decisions based on “I can’t do that because so-and-so would be upset,” or “People might criticize me,” or “How would it look?” You may write about one thing, or more than one, to show a pattern.
After doing that writing exercise, you might want to consider some of these questions. To what extent do the individuals you wrote about, or others in your life, make their decisions on the basis of what you might think? Or are they strangers, such as couples dining at a restaurant who might judge you if you eat there alone? As you think about that, how does it make you feel? Do you want them to make decisions based on what you think? If not, what do you want?
A possibility for future writing would be to write a scene or a dialogue showing what you think would happen if you did what you would prefer to do in one particular instance, rather than feeling trapped by worry about what others might think. Again, this is not about legitimate concerns such as wanting to be fair and considerate to others, or being willing to accommodate a loved one. It’s about shaping our behavior to avoid criticism or negative judgments, even from people who are not personally affected by what we do.
You might also like to reflect on one or more of these quotations:
“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” — Eleanor Roosevelt
“Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.” — Bernard Baruch
“You wouldn’t worry so much about what others think of you if you realized how seldom they do.” — Eleanor Roosevelt
“The eyes of others our prisons; their thoughts our cages.” — Virginia Woolf
“You have no responsibility to live up to what other people think you ought to accomplish. I have no responsibility to be like they expect me to be. It’s their mistake, not my failing.” — Richard Feynman
“I have often wondered how it is that every man loves himself more than all the rest of men, but yet sets less value on his own opinion of himself than on the opinion of others.” — Marcus Aurelius
“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.”—Steve Jobs
“There is only one way to avoid criticism: do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing.” ― Aristotle
JULY 2022, PATIENCE VS. PASSIVITY
We often talk about the need for balance in working out what is the best way to handle challenging situations. This month, we focused on finding a balance between patience and passivity. When is patience a good thing, allowing us to let matters develop as they need to do rather than rushing toward a resolution, and allowing us to maintain a high quality of life while dealing with suspense, delays, disappointments, and difficult people? And when does it devolve into passivity, so that we don’t take action when we should, or we don’t stand up for ourselves when faced with impositions that should be challenged? In considering these questions, it might be useful to consider how we were taught to think about ourselves in relation to others.
Writing exercise: 10 minutes. Write about one concrete experience in the past when it was necessary to be patient — when that was the right thing to do. It might be an event in which you succeeded in being patient and are now glad that you did, or it might be an event in which you weren’t as patient as you now wish you had been. Importantly, as you write, consider what aspects of the situation make you think that patience was indeed the right thing to do at that time, rather than representing passivity or laziness.
Reflection: How do these specific examples illustrate the difference between patience and passivity? Can we define the difference? What elements might be present in a situation that signal us that it’s time to take action, or to move on?
You might also like to use one or more of these quotations as a starting point for writing.
“Even a happy life cannot be without a measure of darkness, and the word happy would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sadness. It is far better take things as they come along with patience and equanimity.” — Carl Jung
“Who ever is out of patience is out of possession of their soul.” — Francis Bacon
“When I was 20, I thought I was 30 – but I was so far from it. When you’re young, you want everything to happen now. As you mature, you can look back and see all the great things you achieved with time and patience.” — Elisha Cuthbert
“Patience doesn’t mean making a pact with the devil of denial, ignoring our emotions and aspirations. It means being wholeheartedly engaged in the process that’s unfolding, rather than ripping open a budding flower or demanding a caterpillar hurry up and get that chrysalis stage over with.” — Sharon Salzberg
“Patience has its limits, take it too far and it’s cowardice.” — Variously attributed.
JUNE 2022, DEALING WITH TOXIC REMARKS
As we’ve discussed many times, what other people say to us can be a source of significant emotional distress. A toxic remark can stick with us for days, even if it wasn’t especially important to the person who said it, and even if that person is not particularly important to us. It might even be someone we don’t know at all, such as an online troll. The remark might seem smug, know-it-all, dismissive of our concerns, or in some other way demeaning and just infuriating.
10 minutes writing, divided into two 5-minute segments without discussion between them.
5 minutes: Think of a time when someone made a remark that really bothered you. Or if this behavior is habitual with someone in your life, you might think of a few examples. Now write for five minutes about how those remarks make you feel. This is a time to say everything in writing that you really feel, even if you wouldn’t say it out loud to anyone. Let loose. Be as emotional as you like. The goal is to get at what we’re feeling when this kind of thing happens. As you go along, pay attention to how your body feels – jaw clamped, tightness in belly. If you feel embarrassed by your feelings, as if you shouldn’t be feeling that way, that’s also something to write about.
5 minutes: For the second half of this exercise, consider why you care so much. Why does it matter what that person said? What is it in you that gets in the way of just shrugging it off and forgetting about it? That’s not to suggest that there’s something wrong with being bothered by such remarks. The goal is to take a non-judgmental look at the buttons in us that are pushed by toxic remarks.
In this month’s session, we also discussed taking a step back to shine a light on the other person, rather than letting them frame the discussion in a way that keeps us on the defensive. Why might they be talking that way? What does it say about them? If someone says, “You’re too sensitive,” for instance, doesn’t that suggest that they’re shallow or at least tone-deaf? If there’s merit in what they said, of course it makes sense to make the necessary changes in ourselves. But the problem might lie with them, not with us, if they are in fact being thoughtless or manipulative.
Here are a few quotations that might serve as prompts for further writing.
“I will not allow anyone to walk in my mind with dirty feet.” – Mahatma Gandhi
“When you notice someone does something toxic the first time, don’t wait for the second time before you address it or cut them off. Many survivors are used to the “wait and see” tactic which only leaves them vulnerable to a second attack. As your boundaries get stronger, the wait time gets shorter. You never have justify your intuition.” ― Shahida Arabi
“If someone thinks you’re being dramatic or selfish, then they obviously haven’t walked a mile in your shoes. It’s not important for you to explain yourself. You get a pass here. Don’t let anyone else try to saddle you with guilt or shame. If you need your space, take it.”
― Sarah Newman
Some people are in such utter darkness that they will burn you just to see a light. Try not to take it personally.” ― Kamand Kojouri
“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” – Eleanor Roosevelt
“Many times, people who are toxic are dealing with their own stresses and traumas. To do this, they act in ways that don’t present them in the best light and usually upset others along the way.” — WebMD